Why Does Egypt Suffer Power Cuts?

Power plant

Even into late September Cairo temperatures reached 100 degrees. Statistics show that 40 percent of energy demand comes from home consumption, and increased air conditioner use contributed to overloading the system.

The one complaint about a recent article at the Middle East Institute on the energy crisis is that it does not describe the ‘how’ of this overloading. That is, why does the power grid shut down in certain neighborhoods, at certain times, and for certain durations? Cairo residents complained of several outages a day over the summer, often lasting an hour at a time.

Were these planned and distributed? Was suffering experienced equally by neighborhood? These are fascinating questions for which I have not yet heard an answer.

But the article does a good job at giving the background to the energy crisis. If one is to be inconvenienced, it helps at the very least to understand why. Here is a brief summary of the main points:

1. From long before the revolution, the government estimated yearly increases at 10 percent, but the actual increases averaged 12 percent.

2. The government did increase its power generation capacity in response, so that by the end of 2013 it equaled 30,000 megawatts. But for near 90 million people this is still inadequate, especially when compared to the near 50 million populations of South Africa and South Korea, which produce 44,000 mw and 80,000 mw respectively.

3. The government anticipated energy growth would coincide with increased production of natural gas. Contracts were signed with international companies, but the 2011 revolution interrupted the ability to pay. Work stopped and production lagged.

4. The existing power grid was forced to work at full capacity to meet local demand, canceling scheduled periods of shutdown for regular maintenance. This contributed to a loss of efficiency and times of irregular shutdown.

5. The Ministry of Electricity has counted 300 acts of terrorism against electricity towers since the June 30, 2013 deposing of President Morsi. Similar accusations of sabotage were issued by the Morsi administration during its year in office.

The end result is that by the summer of 2014, Egypt’s power generation industry is operating at only 70 percent of capacity.

This information will help no one feel cooler in Egypt. Nor will it help anyone feel better about Egypt. The article also described current steps the Sisi government is taking to relieve the crisis; depending on your point of view this information may or may not be helpful either.

But at the least, we can be thankful it is now October.

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